String Quartet

I have been pondering the revision of my old work strangeness from 1985 into this String Quartet for the last 35 years—since it was first performed, in fact. Over those years I have developed many, ever more elaborate, revision plans, but never found the space to embark on the work. When, in early 2018, Bec Scully mooted the possibility of a reworked version for a possible concert I went back to my old plans and was abruptly confronted by the huge gulf between those hifalutin intentions and the actuality of the 1985 music. The moment I sat down and started to push the material around I realised that neither the pitches nor the rhythms would suffice, and the global architecture was rudimentary and inadequate. Another disparity I had been acutely aware of was that of the relationship between the scale of the gestures and the duration of the quartet. It had always felt much too short, and I have made this new version about four times as long to remedy this defect—I anticipate a duration in performance of about 65 minutes.

Nonetheless, that 1985 work had a pungent, impersonal, rhetoric that pleased me at the time. In the ‘80s I was seeking to create a kind of punk modernism, a reproach to the rather anæmically institutional and self-satisfied music being written in England at the time—with notable exceptions, of course. In 2018, however, another time and another place, I found that I was obliged to rethink the piece through the prism of my current sensibility, an approach that necessitated completely new harmonic and rhythmic worlds, and the turning inside-out of the architecture, plus a lot of finessed nuances. To balance the unavoidable tendency to anachronism I plundered old unused sketches of roughly the same vintage as strangeness to provide some new music that enriched the rather skeletonic original. I nonetheless tried to retain certain key features of the earlier version, such as its intense monogesturality, and obsession with homogeneous textures, with tessituræ, and glissandi; without these it would have ceased to be the same work. Even so, the result is, I hope, a great deal subtler and more rewarding, and more personal, than the crude strangeness of 1985.

One way to consider the revised architecture of this String Quartet is to envisage it as a gradual process of transformation, metaphorically, from Creatura (the living world, subject to perceptual difference, distinction, and information) to Pleroma (the non-living world that is undifferentiated by subjectivity)—following Bateson, after Jung. Or as a journey through twenty-odd zones, each sharing a limited range of features with its neighbours—if the piece can be said to have a pulse, it is embodied in the rate of change of zones. And if anyone discerns the oblique influence of Dave Fiuczynski, that’s fine by me.

The original title of the piece was derived from the notion of ostrenenie, “defamiliarisation”, or making strange—strangeness. Although I have abandoned this pretentious title, I think the new version of the work comes far closer to that original conception.

This version of the score—the ‘Large Provisional PDF’—is by no means the finished product. Much remains to be done, not least a thorough proofread, and the addition of some detail to the engraved sections. Preparation work continues: my colleague Andrew Bernard has been labouring on engraving the whole score and the complete work slowly approaches readiness. In the meantime, this LPP version will suffice to give a sense of what the work will be like when ready.

[Please note: for technical reasons there are two consecutive pages 255—they are in the correct order in the score.]